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The final installment of The Search trilogy is finally here! Warning: there are spoilers ahead!
The issue begins with Zuko and Azula fighting while Aang tries to reach out to the mysterious spirit of the Forgetful Valley. Azula is intend on killing Misu and Rafa because she thinks they have something to do with her mother, but Zuko is able to redirect her lightning attacks. Zuko has finally had enough of his sister’s antics and orders the other members of Team Avatar to take her down, but they’re interrupted by Aang’s announcement that the spirit has arrived.
We then segue into a flashback where Ursa, Zuko’s mom, is having breakfast with Noren back in her home village. She soon discovers that Noren is none other than her first love, Ikem, but then we swiftly go back the future, where the spirit of the Forgetful Valley is looming over Team Avatar.
The spirit says that she is the Mother of Faces, and she delivers some backstory about how, once a season, she does a favor for a human. This presents a problem since both Zuko and Rafa need help (as shown in the last issue, Rafa had his face stolen and has been in a fugue state ever since). Zuko is inclined to be noble and let Rafa receive the favor, but Azula barges in and demands to know her mother’s whereabouts. The Mother of Faces says that Ursa asked for, and received, a new face, and she reveals that Ursa is now living as Noriko, who the Gaang met in the last issue.
Azula runs off to kill her mom while Zuko and Sokka give chace. Meanwhile, Aang dives into the Mother of Faces’ pool in a bid to convince her to grant a Rafa a favor as well.
We then get another flashback where Ursa learns that Ikem got a new face from the Mother of Faces. She laments the effect of being constantly separated from her children, and she eventually decides to hop on down to the Forgetful Valley for some mystical plastic surgery of her own.
Back in the present, Aang is using his airbending to pursue the Mother of Faces underwater while trying to cajole her into helping Rafa. Honestly, he comes across like a greedy jerk. The Mother of Faces was quite clear about only giving one wish, and Aang does not make a very compelling case for why she should bend the rules for Rafa. Sure, they have been looking for her for a long time, but I doubt the Mother of Faces is going to care about that. She sends some giant crabs after Aang, then flings him out of the water. By this point, she is quite cheesed off, and she makes it abundantly clear that the Gaang needs to leave the forest ASAP. She calls Aang selfish, shortsighted, and intolerant, and she’s kind of right.
In a flashback, Ursa finally makes contact with the Mother of Faces and makes her request. The Mother was apparently a lot more helpful back then, because in addition to offering a new face, she offers Ursa a new mind to help her forget the pain of losing her children. After getting misty-eyed for a few moments, Ursa accepts both offers, which quite frankly makes her seem selfish. While I understand that being separated from her kids would have been painful, completely erasing them from her memory for all time seems like overkill.
Zuko and Sokka managed to reach Noren and Noriko’s house before Azula, and they join them for dinner. Zuko is plainly conflicted over whether or not to confront his mother, and while he initially decides to let her live in blissful ignorance, Noren convinces him to speak up.
Back in the forest of angry spirits, Aang and his friends are getting beaten up by an array of small, furry, and vicious spirit animals. In the course of the affray, Rafa’s mask gets knocked off, revealing a blank, featureless face. This makes him think of his past dealings with Koh the Face Stealer, and when he mentions Koh’s name, he attracts the Mother of Faces’ attention. It turns out that Koh is her son, and they’ve been estranged for eons. When she sees that her son stole Rafa’s face, she restores it, and then Aang says something schmaltzy about how important it was to restore the relationships between brother and sister and mother and son.
Back at Noren and Noriko’s house, Azula plunges through the ceiling and tries to kill Noriko, but Zuko intervenes. They fight, the house gets wrecked, and Azula asks Zuko why he didn’t kill her when he had the chance when they were fighting on the cliff in the last issue. Zuko basically says that, even though she’s totally out of her gourd, she is still his sister. This has a profound effect on Azula, who flees from the house, crying. She runs off into the night, but Zuko’s pursuit is forestalled by the arrival of the Mother of Faces and the rest of the Gaang. There is some more kvetching about Azula, though Aang (ever the optimist) thinks that there is good in her because she gave the note that seems to allude to Zuko’s illegitimacy back to him. Sokka seems to think that she just dropped it by accident, but Aang claims it was deliberate, though it is not quite clear how he could come to that conclusion.
Ultimately, Noriko opts to get her old face and memories back, becoming Ursa once more. She and Zuko are finally reunited, and we learn that Zuko is not illegitimate after all. Ursa just wrote that in a letter to see if Fire Lord Ozai was spying on her, which seems like a massively stupid thing to do. Surely she could have accomplished that in a way that did not place her life (and the life of her son!) in mortal danger from a psychopath.
Although it is nice that Zuko and his mom have finally been reunited, this final issue fell flat. Ursa comes across as a selfish idiot, which is incredibly disappointing, considering fans have been waiting to learn her fate for years. It is also incredibly annoying that Azula basically exits stage right, without providing us with any meaningful resolution of her storyline. As I have mentioned before, Azula is something of a rarity in the Avatar world because she is an almost entirely inimical character who has not shown any evidence of redemption. This is unusual because Avatar generally likes to stress the idea that there is good in everyone. I realize that there is only so much they can cram into a single issue, but it would have been nice if we had a better idea of where she stands by the end of the issue. Right now, all we have is Aang’s statement that he thinks she probably dropped the incriminating letter on purpose. The last page contained an ad for a new mini-series of comics to be called “The Rift,” so it is possible that Azula will finally get her transformative moment then.
Image credit: Wikipedia.org